Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

“When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.”

Would you like to read a book with the setting in southern rural England, populated by stoic farmers, simple and often comical peasants, one that explores complex relationships between men and women of that time?  It sounds like a wonderful beginning doesn’t it?

Set in the fictional English county of Wessex, Gabriel Oak is a respectable and reliable farmer who loves the unreachable Bathsheba Everdene, a woman who disparages his hard-working, yet common lifestyle and refuses his proposal of marriage.  When Oak finds himself ruined financially, he must depend upon Bathsheba to give him work and a way to reclaim his reputation.  A thoughtless whim on the part of Bathsheba leads to an obsession in the case of Mr. Boldwood, a neighbouring landowner, and Sergent Troy, a jaunty philanderer, seduces Bathsheba’s servant, Fanny, without much remorse, then deliberately bewitches Bathsheba with his rakish manner and manipulative personality, not to mention his unparalleled swordsmanship.  After a fling in the town of Bath, they marry and he sets himself up at the farm as a rather lazy landowner, but lo!, Fanny Robin returns and Troy decides that he has never loved anyone as much as Fanny, and Bathsheba is as interesting as dirt to him.  His heart is loyal, his mind is captivated by only one and no other.  Tragedy devastates Troy causing him to wander senselessly until it is thought that he is drown in the sea.  But no!, another dramatic twist; he returns, wonders why he ever left Bathsheba and appears to want to re-enter her life.  Sound rather nutty?  It is.

A Mill at Gillingham in Dorset (1826)
John Constable
source Wikiart

Yet amongst the dramatic scenes and the emotional mood swings of the characters, Hardy manages to convey a bold impression of the area and a deep understanding of the characters.  And I can’t quite figure out how he does it.  If I examine the characters and their actions individually, I have all sorts of criticisms about their development and plausibility.  However, if I take the book as a whole, I feel that I have inhabited the county of Wessex with a familiarity that is startling; I recognize the types of characters who reside there, their passions and motivations.  Instead of painting a classical picture with bold lines, bright colour, and detail, Hardy has given us an impressionist canvas perhaps from which up close, is muddy and obscure, yet when one steps back, the big picture comes into focus.

Charles Jones
source ArtUK

As for the strong and spirited Bathsheba, while on the surface Hardy appears to elevate her to function adeptly in a man’s world, nevertheless there is an underlying feeling of mockery in his treatment of her.  Although she runs a farm with men subservient to her direction, she is often needing the advice of the stoic, yet devoted, Gabriel Oak, and in the end, her feelings and passions are captured by Troy, a man who, to any astute and respectable woman, should be recognized as a charlatan and a gambler.  Instead of showing good sense and integrity, Bathsheba allows herself to be enslaved by him.

I’ve been a die-hard Hardy-avoider for years, not wanting to partake in the depressed nature of his stories, but I’m glad I’ve chosen to dip my toes into his narrative, exploring his richly created world.  A close inspection of the characters and the period drama shows an imbalance within the work, but nevertheless his prose shines with rich descriptions and elaborate detail.  Hardy shows man in his paradoxical state, both in harmony and conflict with nature, and in sympathy and enmity with each other and himself.

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

From Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751)

0 thoughts on “Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

  1. I've read 2 hardy's and that was enough for me. I ended my reading of him with this book, as I wanted to remember him with some fondness instead of what I felt like after reading Tess of the Durbervilles.

  2. Thanks, MR! Uh ….. well I definitely will read more Hardy, but probably spread out. On one hand I enjoy his writing but on another his stories irritate me. Strange combination, I know, but there you go. Digesting him only now and then will hopefully get me through his works.

  3. I haven't read Tess yet; his only other book I've read is Under the Greenwood Tree and I wasn't thrilled with it. I'm not looking forward to Jude the Obscure which I believe is very depressing. I do understand how you feel and sort of feel the same. If I didn't focus on his setting descriptions and the descriptions of the townsfolk (which I thought he nailed), I'd probably not want to continue.

  4. I have been a die-hard Hardy Avoider as well, especially after reading this one! I know what you mean about reading the book holistically but somehow, I could not look past the plot! I am still not sure if i like him; Under the Greenwood Tree is killing me! I know a lot people whom I respect like his work, but I am still undecided!

  5. I love Hardy's descriptive writing, but agree he can be too depressing & fatalistic – I thought Tess was an awful story but loved Madding Crowd – well, I loved the character of Gabriel Oak. Mayor of Casterbridge was interesting & worth reading.

  6. I feel that Hardy is a good writer but one who goes too much for drama in a way that's sensational and rather soap-operaish. Oliver Goldsmith in his The Vicar of Wakefield is the only writer I can think of that is able to do soap opera in a very believable and compelling way. Hardy doesn't make the cut even though it's a laudable effort. Best of luck with Under the Greenwood Tree!

  7. I loved Gabriel's quiet yet steadfast devotion, yet I couldn't understand his choice of women. There was little about Bathsheba that deserved him. In that way their relationship was rather disappointing. I'm not looking forward to Tess, that's for sure! :-Z

  8. Ohhhh…so that is where Hardy got the title from. I knew it sounded familiar but couldn't place it. How fitting, since it ties in perfect with the pastoral setting of the novel. I had to read Gray's poem a few times over the course of my studies and recall his excellent use of paradoxes.

    Sadly, I have not read anything by Hardy but your excellent review has convinced me that perhaps this novel will cater to my liking, especially since it does seem to be heavily influenced by Romanticism (correct me if I'm wrong).

    P.S. I love the new banner! 😉

  9. a perceptive analysis… and it pinpoints some of the things that are off-putting about Hardy: principally the feeling that there are things going on in his plots that are not shared with the reader; or, putting it in another way, the narrator gives the impression he is from another planet, one similar to ours, but with disturbing but significant differences; more simply, Hardy's POV is hard to grasp – like listening to a computer engineer explaining how to play the "Art of the Fugue" to a beginning piano student… i'm still thinking about this; i should read more of H, i guess, although since my comprehension is normally foggy, it might not do much good… anyway, lovely post, tx…

  10. Cleo: that's it!! he's like a brick-layer trying to be an impressionist painter; elements of his books seem to fight with one another… come to think of it, that's not necessarily bad, but it does take some getting used to…

  11. "Impressionist" – never thought of Hardy that way before, but that's an interesting idea! I do remember enjoying the "immersiveness" of this story, though not the characters as much.

    Hardy is an author I also avoid, perhaps unfairly, having suffered through several TV/film adaptations of his depressingness (Tess was a nightmare). He probably was just writing what he knew from real life, though. Maybe if I read it with a nonfiction mindset, I'll appreciate it more?

  12. This is my favorite. How right you are about his depressive narratives. Seems like he salvages a decent ending to redeem his story. That's how it was for Return of the Native, too.

    I had a strange feeling about Hardy's representation of Bathsheba, too. She appears as a strong, intelligent, independent spirit, but the author did not give her wits in the male department, which does not work with her character.

  13. It doesn't surprise me that you recognize the poem. If only I had your poetry knowledge ….. sigh! 😉

    You might like this novel ….. no, I wouldn't say it is influenced by Romanticism but the drama, the stupidity of some of the characters and the occasional implausibility of their actions might annoy you a little. I hope you do read it because I'd love to hear what you think.

    Yes, I finally changed something on my blog! A miracle, isn't it? 🙂

  14. Yes, I know exactly what you mean. I loved his minor characters but the major ones had a number of problems. It's as if Hardy knew people well as a general whole and how they interacted but when he had to delve into individual human psyches, he stumbled. But again, I could be completely wrong. There is simply something unsettling about his stories … I can't quite put my finger on it ….

  15. I thought of an impressionist because Hardy, while his writing can be beautiful, is also somewhat messy.

    So far, I've found the movies more depressing, but I haven't reached Tess or Jude the Obscure yet in reading, so my opinion may certainly change. I think it would be hard to read this book with a non-fiction view due to the implausibility and drama, but another work, perhaps …..

  16. Yipes, if it's your favourite I'm going to approach the others with trepidation. I thought the ending was really rushed and, again, not very plausible. It was "nice", but not in a way that was very effective. For some reason, I'm looking forward to Return of the Native. I think I might like it!

  17. Hahahaha…of the two that I have read, this is my favorite. But I do like Return of the Native.

    Hardy's writing style suits me well, even if his characters are horrid or terribly flawed. For someone who generally does not care for poetry, I am strangely drawn to his writing since it is poetic in language.

    I guess it's the nature lover in me, honestly. You will find, in RotN, that nature is a character all its own.

  18. It's been a long time since I've read any Hardy–The Mayor of Casterbridge in high school. I don't really remember it, but you remind me that I should try him out again–and really make me think I should start with this one.

  19. You can certainly give him a try. It will probably be awhile before I read another Hardy but at least I'll be prepared. To compare this work with another novel of his would be interesting.

  20. Far From the Maddening Crowd is on my short list. I am one of those oddballs who like depressing books, and I understand Hardy is my kind of author. 🙂
    I'm glad to hear that you were glad to have read it in the end.
    I was checking out your Children's Classic blog too, and it's very nice. I would have loved it as a resource when we were homeschooling.

  21. I keeping hoping that the more I read of Hardy, the more I'll understand him. Often if you understand the author, the more you understand his works. I don't mind depressing if I feel like I've learnt something from it but with Hardy, I still don't know. I had the same unsettled feeling with Dostoyevsky when I began to read him and now I'm slowly coming to LOVE him. But it was a tenuous start to the relationship! 😉 Not that he can be compared to Hardy though.

    Oh, that's wonderful that you homeschooled! We homeschoolers tend to find each other. I wish I had more time for my children's blog. I've not made any commitments to it in 2017, but I do always have plans to get back to it. If only there was more time …..

Thanks for visiting. I'd love to hear from you and have you join in the discussion!